Pakistani military fires on US helicopters at border

The Pakistani military fired on US helicopters as they attempted to cross the border in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan, according to reports from the region. The latest US incursion comes just two days after a suicide bombing destroyed the Marriott Hotel in the heart of Islamabad. A little-known terror group took credit for the strike.

The US incursion occurred near the village of Lwara Mundi, a region dominated by the powerful Haqqani family in North Waziristan. Pakistani regular Army and Frontier Corps units opened fire during two separate incidents, anonymous intelligence sources told AFP.

“Pakistani forces fired at two US gunships which violated Pakistan’s airspace and forced them to return to Afghanistan,” one source told the news agency. “The helicopters flew back after our troops fired shots at them.”

“The helicopters were heading towards our border. We were alert and when they were right on the boundary line we started aerial firing, they hovered for a few minutes and went back,” an official in Islamabad said. “About 30 minutes later they made another attempt. We retaliated again, firing in the air and not in their direction, from both the army position and the FC position, and they went back.”

The US denied its helicopters attempted to enter Pakistani territory. “There was no such incursion; there was no such event,” Colonel Gary Keck, a Defense Department spokesman told The Associated Press.

This is the third attempt by the US to hit Taliban and al Qaeda camps and safe houses using helicopter-borne troops. The US denied a similar incursion on Sept. 15. US special operations forces attempted to conduct a raid in South Waziristan but were fired on.

A highly controversial US raid occurred in a border village in South Waziristan on Sept. 3. US forces conducted an air assault in a border village in South Waziristan. More than 20 Pakistanis were killed in the attack. The US stated Taliban fighters were killed in the action, while the Pakistani government claimed only women and children were killed.

The Pakistani military said it had direct orders to “open fire” on any US forces attempting to violate Pakistan’s borders.

The US has stepped up attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas this year after the Taliban and al Qaeda consolidated control in the tribal regions and settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. There have been 10 recorded cross-border strikes since Aug. 31. There have been 19 recorded cross-border attacks and attempts in Pakistan in 2008, compared to 10 strikes during 2006 and 2007 combined. The last attack occurred on Sept. 17.

Three senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in the attacks. The Haqqani Network, the powerful al Qaeda and Taliban-linked group run by Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani, has been heavily targeted as well. These attacks are designed to interdict al Qaeda’s ability to conduct attacks against the West as well as degrade the Taliban’s support network being used against NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established 157 training camps and more than 400 support locations in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.

Pakistan’s insurgency deepens

The Sept. 20 suicide attack against the Marriott Hotel in the heart of Islamabad is the latest in a series of Taliban and al Qaeda strikes designed to weaken the central government and target Western interests inside the country.

The official death toll stands at 53, but it is expected to rise as there are a number of persons unaccounted for. The majority of those killed were Pakistanis. So far, 21 of those killed are Westerners, including the Czech ambassador, two US Marines, and a Danish intelligence official. Scores more were wounded.

Pakistani officials have not directly implicated a group. But Rehman Malik, the adviser to the prime minister on security issues, said “all roads point to Waziristan,” an obvious reference to Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

“This incident has similarities with the attack on the ISI’s Hamza Camp as well as with the two loaded vehicles caught from D I Khan [Dera Ismail Khan], and with the blast outside the Danish embassy,” Malik said on Sunday. “The explosives used in this blast matched those of earlier explosions.” The explosives used in the attack contained military-grade RDX and TNT, and mortar shells and other accelerants were placed in the bomb. Al Qaeda and Baitullah’s Taliban use the same explosive formula.

A spokesman for Baitullah denied involvement in the attack, but a little known Pakistani terror group took credit. The Fedayeen-e-Islam, a group with direct links to Baitullah Mehsud and al Qaeda, claimed they carried out the Marriott attack. The group is believed to be comprised of members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, a banned terror group that operates in South Waziristan.

Pakistani security forces arrested three suspects in the bombing today in the city of Kharian in Punjab province. The imam of the Jamia mosque in Kharian was among those arrested.

Elsewhere in Pakistan’s northwest, the attacks and violence continue. Taliban fighters kidnapped Afghanistan’s ambassador-designate to Pakistan in the city of Peshawar. Taliban fighters ambushed the ambassador’s car, killing the driver.

In Swat, a suicide bomber killed nine security officials after ramming his car into a rest house used by the troops. Pakistani forces have been battling the Taliban for nearly a year in Swat, but have failed to dislodge to group from the district.

Bill Roggio :Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.